Reevaluating the Calgary Flames’ core

I would imagine the Calgary Flames are not having the season they envisioned. Having taken steps to improve themselves over the offseason – hiring a new coach, acquiring additional right wingers, fixing the goaltending – they still find themselves at the bottom of the NHL’s standings.

When you factor in games played, this is one of the worst teams in the league. That step forward they were supposed to take? Maybe it’s there in flashes, but not really enough to count, at least not at this stage of the season.

Let’s take a moment, then, and remember what we should still have to look forward to – and just who the heartbeat of this team is supposed to be.

The core

Mind, not every player you like should be considered a core player. There are plenty of pieces on the Flames I think are valuable, but there are just a select few who are really going to be the drivers of this team going forward. They’re the most important members, the “do not trade unless the offer is like 20 first round picks” players.

I would say the core of the Flames consists of T.J. Brodie (26), Dougie Hamilton (23), Sam Bennett (20), Johnny Gaudreau (23), Sean Monahan (22), and Matthew Tkachuk (18).

That’s enough skaters for a full lineup plus one forward, because Tkachuk – who we probably could have expected to establish himself as a core player at some point – has forced his way in extremely early on in his career. He’s tied for fourth in team scoring and plays on arguably one of the best lines in the entire NHL; he’s probably only going to get better from here.

Monahan has been floundering this year, but this is still a 22-year-old who will probably score his 100th NHL before this season is over (he’s 14 away). That’s not exactly common. He’s someone you especially hope gets it back together sooner rather than later, because the Flames need him to be better on defence, yes – but they also need him to be a part of the offensive charge.

Gaudreau kind of speaks for himself at this point, and it’ll be awesome to see how much different the Flames are once he returns, and just how much stronger they should be. Last season, he was the offensive heartbeat of the team; that’ll probably continue for a while into his career.

Bennett should be looking to overtake Monahan as the number one centre – whenever he gets back to actually playing centre, that is. Part of the problem is he doesn’t really have linemates the way Gaudreau and Monahan clicked with one another; even so, he’s second in team scoring right now, and like Tkachuk, is probably only going to get better. It’s easy to forget this is really only his second season in the NHL.

Hamilton has completely turned a corner since any rough beginnings he may have had. Now that he’s being regularly played as a top four defenceman – and has a real defence partner to play with, even – he’s been one of the best players on this team. Like Bennett, he’s second in team scoring, too; also like Bennett (and Tkachuk), he’s probably only going to get better. You keep a core player like that.

Brodie is kind of the odd man of this group, simply because he’s three years older than the next guy. Still, the level of play we’re used to from him indicates a top pairing-level defenceman who’s a bit light on creating offence, but is stellar defensively more often than not. Combine that with the amazing contract he’s on, and he’s pretty key to this team.

On the outside looking in

I know, I know; I didn’t include Mark Giordano has a core member. I’m on the fence about doing that with him, but fact is, he’s 33 years old. Is he still an excellent player? Absolutely. But his age, combined with his contract, don’t make for a player you only trade away if you’re offered 20 first round picks. That doesn’t mean you just trade the guy – but it does mean he shouldn’t be quite as untouchable as the others. 

Giordano is right on the cusp of it, though, by my definition. I wouldn’t fault anyone for considering him a core player on this team.

Mikael Backlund (27) and Michael Frolik (28) have been two of the best players on the Flames this season. (If Tkachuk is part of arguably one of the best lines in the NHL this season, then these two get the same credit for that, too.) But they aren’t really core: for one thing, they’re more outside the age group; for another thing, they’re more of the really, really, really, really good complementary player types. You still prefer to keep them, and you definitely have success with them; they just aren’t quite on the same level as the others should be.

Micheal Ferland (24) is also someone you could possibly group in here. Unlike the others, he fits in the core’s age group; however, his overall talents aren’t on the core’s levels. That we know of, at least – he’s scoring just as much as some of them, and if he can ever rise above fourth line ice time and prove himself a consistent scorer maybe he could be considered a part of that group. The way things are going with him right now, though, he’s turning himself into a key member of this team.

What’s missing

There’s no goalie in this group.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson are a bit older and have more uncertain futures with the Flames than anyone else on this list; furthermore, we don’t really have enough on Johnson playing this consistently awesome at this point in time to even confidently say he’ll still be the starter 20 games from now.

The hope is that Jon Gillies adds himself to the core sooner rather than later, but even that isn’t certain. This is an area where we’ll just have to wait.

  • Stu Cazz

    Good call on the core Ari. Flames now need to ensure a top level goalie is identified on the core either one of the current guys here, in the AHL or an addition.

  • Ole YELLEr

    Is there such a thing as a temporary core member? If so that’s where I’d put Gio. I think 4 forwards and 3 dmen is the ideal set up for your skater core. That way you can build around two top six pairings and 3/4 of your top 4. Having a core goalie is ideal but not necessary.

    Having said that I see Gio as being part of the core until Andersson and/or Kylington can (hopefully) establish themselves. There’s also the off ice stuff and captaincy part i think Gio is pretty important in that regard until presumably Monny or Bennett are ready to take on that role.

    It looks like either Gillies or Parssons could become a part of the core but it’s too early to say.

    Otherwise I agree with your list. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised Backlund wasn’t on it.

  • everton fc

    Ferland is part of the core. Without question. The Wings always had a guy or two like Ferland when they won Cups. Ditto other “dynasties”…

    Pencil him into the core. Keep him on LW, and move Brodie to the right-side, if he, too, is “core”.

    I’d also pencil in Backlund, who to me is our future captain, and Frolik, both still young enough, by NHL standards, to be “core” players. Our core can be bigger than this “core” group listed above.

    • MontanaMan

      Backlund future captain? You can’t be serious. Backlund will be in a 3C role as soon as Bennett establishes himself as a bonafide 2C or 1C. Not that Backlund doesn’t do a good job as a 3C because he does, but there aren’t many 3C’s wearing the C and Backlund certainly doesn’t exude the leadership of a Bennett or some of the younger players.

  • Petzl

    I think Backlund at the very least is part of your core. Build a team around solid centers, Backlund could arguably play 2nd line but is a fantastic 3rd line center that takes a tough assignments. He’s young enough you can win with him in 5 years. Not untouchable, but on his current contract should be as close as possible to untouchable.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I can’t see any reason to leave Backlund off the core list. You simply do not win a cup without a player like that. He handles the toughest defensive assignments and makes other players better. Now Brodie is a different story, he is a great skater but does not generate much offense. He is not rugged or particularly sound defensively but he is ou second or third best defender. I think some of the others we have in the pipeline can replace what he brings.

  • Juan Valdez

    I’d say Kyllington, Andersson, Jankowski, and Mangiapane are all untouchable as well until they’re given a fair shot at the NHL level.

    All four of these players would improve our PP considerably.

  • Lucky 13

    Great article Ari. Well I most definitely agree with your assessments on core players, if we are going to conclude for arguments sake the untouchables , protecting our 11 should have been included with the upcoming Vegas scenario and draft.

    3 defence, 7 forwards and one goalie.

    For the time being I still include Gio as part of the core along with Hamilton and Brodie.

    Forwards, Monahan, Bennett, Guadreau, Tkachuk… including Ferland, Backlund, and rounding it out with Frolik because he has done everything and more to increase his value to the team.

    We need to protect one goalie and Johnson has won my vote. What more can you ask of him this season. 3 shutouts with a team that has difficulty scoring!
    His play, shows he is worthy of being core on this team.

    That’s my take

    • Ole YELLEr

      Tkachuk is exempt from the draft he doesn’t have enough pro experience. As unpopular as it may be around here Brouwer gets protected in that spot. The rest seem right to me but we’ll have to see how the season plays out for which goalie is protected. I still think Elliot’s game will get back on track.

      If wonder if Elliot isn’t re signed is there any chance Vegas signs him early as a free agent and that counts as their Flames expansion pick.

      • everton fc

        Might be ideal “bait” to keep Kulak here.

        And yes, they’ll protect Brouwer. But Versteeg seems, to me, to have move value. More productive. With the right linemates, could score 20 goals.

        • Ole YELLEr

          If the protected list is what we assume it to be i’m not overly worried about the expansion draft tbh. While Kulak has been good I think one of Tspoon, Culkin or Morrison could take Kulak’s roster spot next year until Kylington or Andersson are ready if neither is by next year.

          To be fair Brouwer has also proved he can score 20 with the right line mates, I’d keep him over Versteeg. Not sure how much stock you put in it but Brouwer has been a much more durable player as well.

  • Dan the flames fan

    I consider the core to be as close to untouchable as the game allows (Gretzky has proven that nobody is truly untouchable). Then we have a secondary core, or pillars, if you will. As much as you need a strong foundation, if the walls aren’t strong, the building collapses. That’s where I put Gio, Backlund, Frolic, and Ferland. These are players you think twice about trading, unless you get a player just as strong or better coming back. A goalie should be included in these first 2 sections, and at present, I could be safe to say Johnson is making an argument for the role of pillar.

    Our farm team should be developing their own core, which in turn, would be their version of untouchables, and our best prospects for the Flames. Calgary’s history (Sutter years), was to regard the farm team as free coupons with every trade. Great for the buyer, lousy for us. Thankfully that appears to be over now. BT seems to have more sense of value in the prospects than GM’s of the past. Our future core should come from them, instead of the next big trade.

  • everton fc

    Moving any of Backlund, Frolik and/or Ferland will show this organization is lacking smarts. All three, on most nights, have been our most consistent players. They have put points on the board, and are playing at a level that matches their salary (move Bouma so Ferland can get a well-deserved raise).

    Again, look at how long Draper and Maltby played in Detroit. I’ll guarantee they were considered “core guys”. Daniel Cleary’s another. While the game may have changed, having “core” guys like these on your roster if you want to win consistently, hasn’t.

    I’d say, with some of the performances this year, some core guys may no be so “core”. I’ll leave it at that. But these three, to me, are “core”. “Core” if you want to win championships, and stay under the cap, that is…

    As for who is protected, “as I type”:

    Goalie: Johnson

    Defence: Hamilton, Brodie, and either Gio or Kulak.

    Forwards: Gaudreau, Bennett, Monahan, Backlund, Frolik, Ferland… Maybe Brouwer? (Tkachuk doesn’t need to be protected) Or does Versteeg have more value, for less dollars?? (I say you don’t protect Shinkaruk or Poirier, at this stage).

  • DoubleDIon

    Core I think means contributing to team success. The only forward more valuable on the ice to this team than Backlund is Gaudreau. I’d move Monahan long before I’d move Backlund. I know that won’t be a popular opinion, but I think if you gave Backlund the cherry minutes and played him with Gaudreau he’d put up point totals similar to Monahan while being much better defensively and making half the money.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I like Backland but He is not a finisher, on the other hand Monny has proven to be o finisher. If I could only keep one then it would be Monny based on his age and offensive body of work. However, I would keep Backland over almost all the other forwards….not named Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Monny, maybe Bennett.

  • OKG

    Da core:

    Tkachuk-Bennett
    Gaudreau-Jankowski-Monahan
    Ferland-Backlund

    Giordano-Hamilton
    Kylington-Brodie

    These eleven players should be on roster for the next five years barring a total blockbuster trade. Yes Gio is core, just like Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith are part of the Hawks’ core. Core is the people who make everyone around them better so you can cycle around spare parts like Frolik, Brouwer, Versteeg, Schlemko, Kulak, Poirier, Klimchuk, Hathaway, Shinkaruk, Mangiapane, Pribyl as the cap/team need sees fit. It would be nice if Chad Johnson proves he is core too.

  • Newbietwo

    The question isn’t now but two years from now.. do we retain Backlund as a centre for $5 million because he will get that from free agency and he is only just now peeking!

    The next two off seasons will determine a lot in creating both a balanced and winning team adding to the core.. things are clear as to how other teams play against us and especially on the road where our first line gets shuts down “although we are missing a bib piece in completing our first line”

    -What we ideally need are two true top six wingers and a top 4 defender

    -What we must ask in a cap world is where so we think Jankowski slots in once Stajan expires and Backlund needs a re up

    -Are the flames banking on Anderson and Kylington slotting into the line up in the next two years?

    – At the very least one of our goalies will be re signed and it will most likely be the younger which is Johnson so who does the back up role go to?

    – I see a scenario two seasons from now where Giordano gets traded and what do we get in return versus making that move now? Will we need to retain some salary a few years from now to make it happen? It’s likely that was always the possibility but they proceeded in anycase given his current upside

    -There are some players I am very high on and would target: Anthony Martha-Detroit and 6ft5 winger, Lawson Crouse-Arizona and 6ft4 winger, Valeri Nichuskin-Dallas and 6ft4 winger who wants out of Dallas,

  • calgaryfan

    The only core player is Johnny hockey, no one else has proven they are elite NHL players. Some have potential but are young and developing. This is a team rebuilding that needs more skill.

  • Derzie

    I look at ‘core’ as guys that I would lock up for 5 years.

    Johnny, Monny, Sam, Matt, Backlund, Frolik, Ferland, Brodie, Hamilton, Gio (mentor, ethic, captain).

    On the farm the ‘core to see what they are for 5 years.’

    Mangia, Ras, Kyl, Dube, Fox, Janko, Phillips, Gilles, Parsons. I’d leave a spot for Johnson if he can finish the season with above average numbers. 2 years as a starter, 3 as a backup.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    This is what I wanna know. How come after his dazzling debut with the Avs, and the expected chorus of lament and condemnation by Flames’ fans for the club letting him go for squat, not a peep has been heard from these same fans about the loss of the great Joe Colborne? Last time I checked, he is still stuck on 3 goals but he has now played 20 games. You can do the math yourself to prorate how many goals Colborne might be in line for in an 82-game schedule. It will also answer the question that Tre answered last spring about whether Colborne was a 30-goal scorer or just a guy who scored 30 goals.

  • Just.Visiting

    Since the topic is “the core”, I wonder if it may be of interest to have an article about moving Matt or JG to the right side so that they are the top line wingers in due course.

    Although I really like what Frolik is bringing this year, he is more a very good complementary player. I think that each of JG and Matt is a much better option than anyone we have on the roster (or in the system) for the top RW spot.

    For context, Matt played the right side in junior last year, such that it’s not like it would be a huge adjustment for him at this stage of his career.

    Ferland deserves more minutes than he gets, and he could take Matt’s spot on the new Mikes line without there being a huge drop, given the way that Ferland is playing so far this year.

    I think this move makes the team stronger by keeping the Backlund line solid while increasing the compete and skill level of another line and positioning us to have a true top line when JG returns.